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what are human rights? and why are they so important? Human rights are something we all share. They are about recognising the value and dignity of all people. In learning about human rights, we learn about ideas of respect, fairness, justice and equality. We learn about standing up for our own rights and about our responsibility to respect the rights of others. Understanding human rights shapes our thinking and our actions – because human rights are about real-life i
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    what are human rights? and why are they so important? Human rights are something we all share. They are about recognising the value and dignity of all people. In learning about human rights, we learn about ideas of respect, fairness, justice and equality. We learn about standing up for our own rights and about our responsibility to respect the rights of others. Understanding human rights shapes our thinking and our actions  – because human rights are about real-life issues. They are about: ã  having clean water to drink and food to eat; ã  being able to go to school or have a job; and ã  being treated fairly by others, regardless of your age, race, religion or where you were born. Use the resources included on th e Information for Students website  and also in this booklet to find out more about human rights – both in Australia and overseas. Developed by the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission Visit: www.humanrights.gov.au/info_for_students   Page 2 HUMAN RIGHTS ESSENTIALS Human Rights are not a recent invention - discussion of rights and responsibilities has been an important part of all societies throughout history. Rights are related to the values that societies live by. These values have their srcins in the world's great religions and philosophies. Since the end of the Second World War, there has been a concerted attempt by the nations of the world to work together to identify what human rights exist and how they can best be promoted and protected. Check out the resources on the following pages to find out more: Frequently Asked Questions About Human Rights Page 3   Short answers to some of the big questions, with links to further information. Resource Sheet: What are Human Rights? Page 8    A useful overview extracted from HREOC's Youth Challenge program The Universal Declaration on Human Rights Page 11   Background to the first international statement on human rights. Human Rights Timeline Page 12   Chart the course of human rights history. Resource Sheet: The Origins of Modern Human Rights Laws Page 12   Explores the development of our current human rights and anti-discrimination laws, also extracted from HREOC's Youth Challenge program You should also check out the following pages on the HREOC website: ã   Human Rights Explained  A detailed look at some of the current debates about human rights.  Available at: www.humanrights.gov.au/hr_explained ã   Youth Challenge: Unit 1 - Human Rights in the Classroom    An overview of human rights from HREOC's Youth Challenge Program  Available online at: www.humanrights.gov.au/youthchallenge    Page 3 FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS ON HUMAN RIGHTS 1. What are human rights? Every person has dignity and value. One of the ways that we recognise this fundamental worth is by acknowledging and respecting a person's human rights. Human rights are concerned with equality and fairness. They recognise our freedom to make choices about our life and develop our potential as human beings. They are about living a life free from fear, harassment or discrimination. There are a number of basic rights that people from around the world have agreed on, such as the right to life, freedom from torture and other cruel and inhuman treatment, rights to a fair trial, free speech and freedom of religion, rights to health, education and an adequate standard of living. These human rights are the same for all people everywhere – male and female, young and old, rich and poor, regardless of our background, where we live, what we think or what we believe. This is what makes human rights ‘universal'. Rights also describe what is lawful: that is, some rights may be laid down in law. If you have a legal right to something, you may be able to defend it in court. In many situations, though, rights exist but are not covered by law. These rights are often called moral rights and are based on people's sense of what is fair or just. 2. Where do human rights come from? Human rights are not a recent invention. Discussion about these ideas can be traced back to the ancient civilisations of Babylon, China and India . They contributed to the laws of Greek and Roman society and are central to Buddhist, Christian, Confucian, Hindu, Islamic and Jewish teachings. Concepts of ethics, justice and dignity were also important in societies which have not left written records, but consist of oral histories, such as Indigenous people in Australia and elsewhere.  A significant development in human rights took place in the 18th Century, during a time of revolution and emerging national identities. The American Declaration of Independence (1776) was based on the understanding that certain rights, such as ‘life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness', were fundamental to all people. The French Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen (1789) challenged the sovereignty of the aristocracy and recognised the ‘liberty, equality and fraternity' of individuals. These values were echoed in the United States ' Bill of Rights (1791), which recognised freedom of speech, religion and   Page 4the press in its Constitution, as well as the right to ‘peaceable' assembly, private property and a fair trial. However, the growth of totalitarian regimes in the 20th Century and the atrocities of World War 2 made the protection of human rights an international priority. The first attempt to develop a comprehensive statement of human rights was made in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (the UDHR). The UDHR sets out the fundamental rights of all people, including the right to life; freedom from slavery, torture and arbitrary arrest; freedom of thought, opinion and religion; the right to a fair trial and equality before the law; the right to work and education; and the right to participate in the social, political and cultural life of one's country.  Australia played an important role in drafting the UDHR, which was adopted unanimously by members of the United Nations in 1948. Since then it has been the foundation on which much international law has been based. 3. Are there different types of human rights? Human rights cover virtually every area of human life and activity. They include civil and political rights , such as freedom of speech and freedom from torture. They also include economic, social and cultural rights , such as the rights to health and education. Some rights apply to individuals, such as the right to a fair trial: these are called individual rights . Others apply to groups of people, such as women and children: these are called collective rights . One of these characteristics of human rights is that they are ‘universal'. This means they apply to everyone, regardless of status, race, gender, nationality or other distinction.  Another characteristic is that they are ‘indivisible'. In other words, people are entitled to all rights - civil and political (such as the right to a fair trial) and economic, social and cultural (such as the right to education). They can't be ranked, or traded off. 4. What are the human rights ‘standards'? The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, agreed to by the nations of the world on 10 December 1948, sets out the basic rights and freedoms of all men, women and children. It has become the most important document of its kind and forms the basis of many legally-binding national and international laws. Since then, human rights standards have been developed and incorporated into many international laws and treaties. Two of the most significant of these are the: ã   International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights ã   International Covenant on Economic Social and Cultural Rights.
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